FOM: misuse of G"odel's theorem

Stephen G Simpson simpson at
Mon Feb 15 20:06:23 EST 1999

Martin Davis writes:

 > I'd appreciate a quote. 

Sorry, I don't have a transcript of what Wiesner said.  Perhaps
someone could look this up?  It was reported in the New York Times
account of the hearings.

 > I predict that what he said was something along the lines of:
 > Not everything that is technologically desirable is technologically
 > possible.  There are a number of developments in twentieth century
 > science that underline this: relativity theory (no faster than
 > light transportation), quantum mechanics (uncertainty at the micro
 > level), G"odel's theorem (there are mathematical questions that we
 > know our best present methods can't answer).

If that's what Wiesner said, then in my opinion it would be bad
enough, because obviously G"odel's theorem, relativity theory, and
quantum mechanics were totally irrelevant to the issue at hand: the
feasibility of an ABM system.  To pretend they were relevant would
have been to deliberately mislead.  In this kind of context, people
who cite G"odel's theorem, quantum mechanics, and relativity do so
sophistically.  In other words, they do so only in order to obfuscate,
to take advantage of the audience's lack of knowledge, and to hide
their own lack of real arguments.

However, my recollection is that what Wiesner actually said to the
assembled Senators was somewhat different -- along the lines of "The
software for an ABM system would not be reliable, because according to
G"odel's theorem no large software package can be absolutely
bug-free."  In other words, he was actually misstating G"odel's

Either way, an incredibly irresponsible misuse of science, in my

-- Steve

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